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Middle Georgia socked with flooding rains

Following days of downpours, heavy rain soaked Middle Georgia all day Thursday, flooding neighborhoods, canceling school today in some counties and causing rivers and creeks to spill out of their banks.

Jeremy Hortman and his roommate waded through nearly thigh-high water in south Bibb County, placing bags of sand along the back of his home on Carey Drive.

“I don’t carry flood insurance ’cause it’s in the flood zone, and you know it ruins things,” Hortman said. “You know, I don’t have a lot of money to begin with, and now I have to start doing repairs. This kind of stuff can make me foreclose on a house.”

Water flooded Hortman’s car, soaking through the carpets and floorboards, he said.

His neighbor in the 6400 block of Carey Drive said water poured into her basement.

On Liberty Church Road, Woody and Ellen Harper said they haven’t seen flooding so bad on their street since the Great Flood of 1994.

“It’s been a mess. That’s what it’s been,” Woody Harper said.

Water ponded in their front yard but wasn’t finding its way inside the house Thursday.

“Thank goodness,” Ellen Harper said.

Vernon Cullins, a Bibb County environmental code enforcement officer, took pictures of water backing up in the south end of the county.

“There’s a tremendous amount of water everywhere,” Cullins said. “It’s too much water for the pipes to handle. So we’re trying, as much as we can, to relieve the blockage so the water can continually flow.”

In the Lake Wildwood community, motorists detoured around a flooded spillway where water raged like a river across the pavement. The Colaparchee Creek flowed over the road in the private neighborhood off Zebulon Road in Bibb County.

The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for many of the midstate counties the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers flow through.

Rain fell steadily throughout the day, piling up rain-gauge totals. From midnight Wednesday through 6 p.m. Thursday, the Middle Georgia Regional Airport recorded 2.67 inches. And from midnight through 5 p.m., 2.18 inches fell at Robins Air Force Base, according to the National Weather Service.

From March 26 through 6 p.m. Thursday, Macon has been hammered with approximately 8.13 inches of rain, wiping out the yearly rainfall deficit, officials said. More rain was expected into the night Thursday.

Shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday, the Ocmulgee River was already at 21 feet and was expected to crest sometime Thursday evening at about 21.5 feet, said Matt Sena, a meteorologist with The National Weather Service.

“We will be watching that closely overnight to see what gets released from Jackson and what feeds into it,” Sena said.

Sunday, the river crested at 23.62 feet, which flooded nearly all of the city’s downtown riverwalk.

In Laurens County, the Oconee River is at 24.4 feet and is forecast to rise to about 25 feet by Sunday, said Don Bryant, Emergency Management Agency director.

In Hawkinsville, the Ocmulgee River reached 25.5 feet, more than 5 feet above flood stage, said EMA Director and Pulaski County Fire Chief Leslie Sewell.

Sewell said roads leading to homes built on the river are flooded, but residents are using boats for transportation.

Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency Director Johnny Wingers said his biggest concern overnight Thursday and through today is the possibility of downed trees and power lines.

“I’ve never seen the ground this saturated before,” Wingers said.

With winds forecast as strong as 45 mph, trees may topple, Wingers said.

With some roads — especially dirt roads — damaged or out of commission because of torrential rains, some midstate school systems pulled the plug on classes.

School systems in Jones, Monroe and Twiggs counties closed early Thursday, and today a handful of schools have canceled classes.

Jones and Monroe students are not in session today, but staff should report at 9 a.m. In Dooly County, students are off, but teachers should report to work at the normal time. In Twiggs and Pulaski counties, students are not in class, although faculty and staff should report at 8:30 a.m. In Dodge County, students and faculty are not at school today.

As the rain continued Thursday, problems mounted throughout the day in several midstate counties.

Bibb County sheriff’s Lt. George Meadows said deputies worked several fender-benders that were the result of cars hydroplaning.

In Monroe County, Emergency Management Agency Director Matthew Perry said deputies and county road employees monitored roads that were damaged in last weekend’s flooding. Many of the washed-out roads remained closed Thursday, Perry said. Several roads also were closed in Twiggs and Jones counties.

Georgia Power was working Thursday to deal with the heavy rain.

Six spillway gates were opened on Lake Sinclair to make room for additional rainwater, said Konswello Monroe, a Georgia Power spokeswoman.

Greg Brown, plant manager for Central Georgia Hydro Group, which manages the dam, said the gates are opened to remove water once the lake reaches a full level.

The lake has a total 24 spillway gates, and the most ever opened was 14 in 1998, said Jeff Wilson, a Georgia Power spokesman.

Monroe County officials said Thursday that water also was flowing out of Jackson Lake to keep the lake from overflowing. The water feeds into the Ocmulgee River, they said.

Telegraph staff writers Becky Purser, Ashley Tusan Joyner, Linda S. Morris and Gene Rector contributed to this report.

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